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Many fixed-term employees in the academia

Undervisning i lektionssal

Over 40 % of the research and teaching staff at LiU do not have permanent employment. Last fall SULF, the Swedish Association of University Teachers, toured the country to inform fixed-term employees of their rights.

Almost 3,600 people are employed at LiU, if you count research and teaching staff. Of those some 1,450 – just over 40 % – have some form of fixed-term employment, temporary position, or general fixed-term employment (ALVA). These figures are by no means unique to LiU; it looks like this in all of the country’s universities and colleges.

“This is about security,” says Åsa Rybo Landelius, representative for SULF at LiU. Many feel they aren’t notified whether their employment will continue or terminate until the last few days of the term. Nor do many dare say what they think; fixed-term employees don’t want to make things uncomfortable at the workplace.

The hotel and restaurant industry is often brought out as one of the worst offenders when it comes to fixed-term employment. But, as regards research and teaching staff, the universities are on the same level.

“On the union’s side, we believe it’s better to permanently employ people, and then in that case terminate them if there  are no job openings later,” Landelius says. “This is what they do in the auto industry, for example, and the general view of the future is shorter and more uncertain there than here.”

There are different types of fixed-term employment. A temporary position, for example to cover someone’s parental leave, or general fixed-term employment, called ALVA in Swedish. If a person has worked a total of two years over the last five years they must be offered a permanent position under the Swedish Employment Protection Act.

But, according to Landelius, the different forms of employment are not counted together. So, it’s possible to stack different forms of employment on one another without tallying them up together, entirely legally. “There are examples of people who have had fixed-term employment in various forms for up to 20 years, even if it’s not common.”

Åsa Rybo Landelius, SULF

Many don’t know how fixed-term employment works and what rights they have. Therefore SULF went on tour to universities and colleges to inform their members of what happens when a fixed-term position terminates.

“We get a lot of questions about unemployment insurance and the Job Security Agreement,” Landelius says (photo to the right). It’s a jungle out there, one that’s not easy for individuals to put themselves into. Permanent employees are covered by the Job Security Agreement after just a year; fixed-term employees only after three years. The Agreement gives the employee the right to 80 % of their wage and help from the Swedish Job Foundation."

What happens when a fixed-term position terminates? In the best case you get permanent employment. At least a month prior to termination, you must be notified of what is happening.

“If you work with research, you can be active yourself and search for money,” Landelius says. “Otherwise, our advice is to go to the Swedish Public Employment Service on your first day of unemployment. You should be careful to keep up with your employment contracts to see how long you’ve been under the different forms of employment. And through your union, try to get the institutions to plan and announce the jobs."

“SULF has also reported Sweden to the EU Commission on this issue. There’s an EU Directive specifying that fixed-term positions may not be stacked on one another. But today the Swedish Higher Education Ordinance provides that opportunity,” Landelius says.

Randi Hellgren, HR-direktör

"If people are to view an academic career as an alternative to a career in business, LiU has to be an attractive employer. And we are, with the academic career path LiU has built.” So argues Staff Director Randi Hellgren (photo to the left), also pointing out the fact that LiU, as the only university in Sweden has created the opportunity for permanent employment at the qualification level, namely in a position as a junior university lecturer.

“At that point people are normally at an age when you want to start a family, and to increase the degree of attractiveness we think announcing a training position as permanent should be considered.”

When it comes to the scope of fixed-term positions, the academia is a bit special. Other employers only have the Swedish Employment Protection Act to relate to. Here, we also have the Swedish Higher Education Act and Higher Education Ordinance, and central collective agreements on postdoc positions and adjunct teachers. It is also possible to blend the Ordinance with Employment Protection Act positions and positions regulated in the central collective agreement.  If you’re really creative, you can put together fixed-term positions over 22 years.

“But here, we have a common interest with the union in following up if we see patterns of institutions taking advantage of the system. We conduct dialogues with the department heads; there are examples of institutions that have gone from a great many fixed-term employees to essentially none. But as a large employer, we shouldn’t over-utilize the opportunities,” Hellgren continues. “Nor do we want people to slide in via the Employment Protection Act; we want people to be recruited in competition with others. There is a purpose with all fixed-term positions, which is important for us as employer representatives to respect and relate to.”

Jörgen Nissen, prefekt ISV

The Department of Social and Welfare Studies (ISV) has over the past few years been successful in increasing its share of permanently employed staff. This is also the long-term ambition. So argues Jörgen Nilsson (photo to the right), ISV Department Head.

“Despite this, we tend to continue hiring for fixed terms. This can sometimes be justified for operational reasons. For example, as regards guest professors and guest lecturers who are active in practice, primarily in health-related programmes.”

Fixed-term positions create a lot of administration; for employees it is of course better to have permanent employment. In addition, competition for university instructors increases. Nissen believes these factors point towards permanent employment to a greater extent.

“We have to be better at sometimes daring to employ people permanently. But then, unfortunately, we also have to be better at terminating positions, perhaps more often.”

Hellgren can agree that there is a certain amount of caution in offering permanent employment. In 2004, for the first time LiU was obliged to fire someone owing to a shortage of money. Since then, some 30 instructors have been fired.

“But, if someone is compelled to go onto fixed-term positions for too long, there is a risk they’ll apply for positions elsewhere. And the competition for teachers will increase in the future.”

A great number of those on fixed-term employment are in the group of doctoral students, around 700 people. They cannot be anything other than fixed-term employees. A large and growing group are those over 67, who cannot be permanently employed, either.

“I believe LiU will stay around 40 % fixed-term employees as regards research and teaching staff in the future as well, given the career model used today,” Hellgren says.

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Last updated: 2013-02-20